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Spatializing Student Learning to Reimagine the “Place” of Inclusion

by Srikala Naraian - 2016

Background/Context: The goal of inclusive education is universally recognized as the fundamental restructuring of schools to engage hospitably with all forms of difference, including ability. However, inclusion, at least in practice, has come to mean the physical placement of students with disabilities in general-education classrooms. The conundrum of inclusion as currently implemented is that its entanglement with place weakens the possibility of the required large-scale transformation of school spaces. Additionally, analyses of place and disability/inclusion generally assume the concept of place to represent a fixed, stable entity with determinate boundaries, making it difficult to disrupt the linkage between place and disability.

Purpose/Objective: This paper is an attempt to explore a new conception of place that would permit educators to engage with student learning differences without associating them with fixed environments. Rather than consider place as a fixed, naturalized entity, I draw on theorists who develop the spatial dimension of human experience alongside the social and temporal (Soja, 1996; Massey, 1993). Within this theoretical perspective, school places are not merely containers within which events take place; rather, they are formed in the interaction of webs of ideas and people. The research questions for this paper, therefore, were as follows: How is place constructed within the discourse of teachers? To what extent do such constructions reflect prevailing notions of special education or inclusion as a place?

Research Design: Data for this paper drew primarily on 19 interviews I conducted with nine educators during the course of a series of ethnographically-oriented studies conducted between 2005 and 2014. Each of the studies addressed in this paper was conducted in schooling sites in the U.S. where general- and special-education teachers were supporting students with a range of disabilities in inclusive classrooms. Teacher interview data from a nine-month professional development sequence in inclusive practices were also used for this paper. The development of categories during data analysis for this paper emerged from triangulating interview data with extensive field notes maintained for each site.

Findings: Data analysis disclosed that teachers participated in maintaining the boundaries of places through their conceptions of students as learners, even as their own professional identities were produced via the historically mediated beliefs and practices that were implicated within those places. As educators struggled to create places of inclusion, the identities of such places differed depending on the logic in which they were anchored: student connectedness or learning need.

Conclusions: Supported by an alternate conceptualization of learning need, I draw on the linkage between teacher identity and place to propose that a diasporic sensibility can enable different relations between the two, making inclusion a spatially fluid project involving changing networks of people and experiences.

Throughout the history of education of students with disabilities in U.S. public schools, the linkage between inclusion and placement of students—specifically, placement in the general education classroom—has remained a central concept (Colker, 2013; Osgood, 2005; Yell, 2011). So even though the term inclusive education may invoke a broader agenda of school-wide and system-wide change that can make learning environments hospitable to students with diverse learning profiles, the term inclusion, at least in practice, has come to mean the physical placement of students with disabilities in general education classrooms (Booth & Ainscow, 2011; Kauffman, Bantz, & McCullough, 2002; Slee, 2011; UNESCO, 1994). Consequently, as schools engage in the implementation of inclusion, the issues they are likely to identify emerge from such a fixed notion of place, where place is construed broadly as physical locations falling within either general education or special education tracks. Alternatively, lack of success in inclusion is often attributed to failure of students to meet the requirements of place (typically, the general education classroom) or to student characteristics that require particular places, i.e., specific configurations of students, teachers, and school spaces such as self-contained special education classrooms (Kauffman et al., 2002). Despite the growing awareness among educators of general pedagogical approaches for inclusive classrooms that assume diversity as the norm (e.g., Rose, Meyer, & Hitchcock, 2006; Tighe & Tomlinson, 2006), this place-based orientation has remained a fairly stable element in the history of inclusion in the U.S. (Osgood, 2005; P. Smith, 2011).

Not surprisingly, as large urban school districts shift their policies toward inclusive schooling (Walcott, 2011), the arguments raised by skeptical educators about the feasibility of such inclusion for all students with disabilities revolve around the same core arguments: Either some students are simply too disabled to be educated in the general education classroom, or some students actually benefit from locations that utilize smaller groups and flexible services available via special education programming (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1998; Zigmond & Baker, 1996). To some extent, such place-based arguments within education of students with disabilities may be mitigated by the discourse of special education/inclusive education as a set of services rather than a place, where specialized services follow a student anywhere regardless of the setting in which s/he is placed (Lipsky & Gartner, 2008). Though many districts around the country have officially taken up this approach, it does not appear to have fully severed the connection between place and student dis/ability that has characterized efforts to bring about inclusion (Hehir & Mosqueda, 2007; Perry & Associates, 2012).

Indeed, this connection is entrenched in public discourse at all levels. For instance, reports issued by the federal government on the educational status of students with disabilities document the percentage of time students with disabilities spend in the general education classroom (data tables available at http://www.ideadata.org/). And even as these numbers have shown a rising trend in the last decade, the linkage between specific disability categories and duration of time spent in the general education classroom has remained resistant to change. Students with intellectual disabilities, autism, multiple disabilities, and emotional disabilities are less likely to spend 80% or more of their time in the general education classroom than students with labels of learning disability or speech impairment (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). As Zigmond, Kloo, and Volonino (2009) observed, “what is valued, counted, reported is where special education services are being delivered” (p. 191, emphasis added).

If the linkage between disability and placement has come to seem inevitable, then inclusion must remain equally inseparable from place, making its implementation a perpetually contentious claim. Additionally, this would imply that inclusion, which is predicated on supporting and valuing all forms of learning differences through instructionally flexible opportunities, will, ironically, always remain contingent on some preferred student characteristics. This inherent contradiction within conceptualizations of inclusion frequently results in measures adopted by educators that on the one hand seem to promote greater parity in securing opportunities for students with disabilities, but on the other continue to maintain stereotypical responses to disability and/or learning differences (Naraian, 2014). As inclusive education gains increasing traction nationally and internationally, placement has been recognized as one of the key dilemmas confronted by teachers of students with disabilities (Norwich, 2008). The goal of inclusive education is universally recognized as the fundamental restructuring of schools to engage hospitably with all forms of difference, including ability (UNESCO, 1994; Slee, 2011). The conundrum of inclusion as currently implemented is that its entanglement with place weakens the possibility of such large-scale transformation of school spaces.

Additionally, analyses of place in relation to inclusion have disclosed other inequities. An early call to evaluate the utility of specialized places underscored the unjust segregation of disadvantaged learners (Dunn, 1969), a phenomenon that remains relevant many decades later (Artiles & Trent, 1994; Blanchett, 2006). Some researchers, therefore, have called for shifting the question from what is the best place to educate students with disabilities to identifying who/what such places serve, while others have described the value of some places for permitting greater student learning (Kauffman et al., 2002; Jorgensen, 2005; Zigmond, 2003; Zigmond et al., 2009). Still others have called for creative use of places to better support students’ learning (Schwarz, 2007). It has also been suggested that the focus on place—in particular, the shift from specialized to general education places—is an implicit indictment of the failure of special education in improving outcomes for students with disabilities (Gallagher, 2004). Broadly and summatively speaking, inclusive education scholars take the position that if schooling spaces could be transformed to subsume many different conceptions of ability/disability, places within schools (i.e., classrooms) could be more readily accessible and hospitable to diverse learners (Naraian, 2008; Slee, 2011; Ware, 2010).

Most of these analyses of place and disability/inclusion assume the concept of place to represent a fixed and stable entity with determinate boundaries (Larsen & Beech, 2014; Raffo, 2011). This by itself is not necessarily a problematic assumption. Clearly, it has permitted researchers to examine the inequities experienced by students with disabilities across other salient social divisions, such as race and socioeconomic class (Artiles & Trent, 1994; Colker, 2013; Ferri & Connor, 2006). But for the purposes of disrupting the link between place and disability to promote greater inclusion, it offers little possibility for change. If place is a fixed, bounded, naturalized entity, and students’ capacity for learning is perceived as inextricably tied to it, then efforts to implement inclusion will remain mired in the same problems and arguments that have dogged them for the last several decades. To bring inclusion closer to the ideal of inclusive education, we need a new conception of place that will permit educators to consider student learning without associating it with fixed environments.

This paper is an attempt to begin the search for such a conception of relations between learning and place that can facilitate efforts to implement inclusion. The study reported in this paper inquires into the many ways in which teachers deploy the concept of place when theorizing their everyday activities. Rather than consider place as a fixed, naturalized entity, however, I draw on scholars who have focused on the spatial dimension of human experience to conceptualize place as constructed in, and emergent within, the relations between people, events, and ideas (Soja, 2010; Massey, 1993, 1994, 2009). Such a position recognizes that school places are not merely containers within which events take place; rather, they are formed in the interaction of webs of ideas and people. Adopting this lens, I examined data from five ethnographically oriented studies that I conducted between 2005 and 2014 in urban and suburban, elementary and secondary school settings in the midwestern and northeastern United States (Naraian, 2008, 2010a, 2011a, 2016; Naraian & Oyler, 2014). During this period, individual school systems across the studies likely experienced many shifts in policies. Still, because the studies took place within the era of the No Child Left Behind Act, accountability remained a strong common focus. Each of the studies addressed in this paper was conducted in sites where general- and special education teachers were supporting students with a range of disabilities in inclusive classrooms. While the aims of these studies centered on documenting the struggles to implement inclusive education as experienced by students, teachers, and families, this paper centers specifically on describing the ways in which educators utilized the concept of place. The research question for this paper, therefore, was as follows: How is place constructed within the discourse of teachers? To what extent do such constructions reflect prevailing notions of special education or inclusion as a place?

In the next section, I review how inclusion came to be historically and unequivocally linked to the notion of place. I follow this with an exploration of spatial theory that permits alternate conceptualizations of place and generates an analytical focus that may be helpful for describing the implementation of inclusion.


The centrality of place has been a long-standing fixture within the history of education for students with disabilities in the United States (Danforth, Taff, & Ferguson, 2006; Osgood, 2005). Whether it was the socially conscious efforts of reformers like Samuel Gridley Howe during the late 19th century to create specialized institutions that would develop “defective” minds and return productive citizens to society, or the separation of “bad” and “incorrigible” students into “backward” classes in the early 20th century, the linkage between place, defect, and cure/remediation has been resilient (Danforth, Taff & Ferguson, 2006; Trent, 1994; Tropea, 1987). By the latter half of the 20th century, when lawsuits on behalf of students with disabilities and their families were being filed against governing boards and institutions, the concept of where students should be educated (and by extension with whom and what they would be taught) had already become a foundational premise (Yell, 2011; Zigmond, 2003). Not surprisingly, a core principle within early iterations and later reauthorizations of the federal legislation that mandated public schooling for students with disabilities, Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Public Law 94-142, was the least restrictive environment (LRE) that was to be determined for each student when planning for their individualized programs (Taylor, 2001; Yell, 2011). The inherent flaw in conflating place with supports notwithstanding (Taylor, 2001), the LRE principle provided the organizing logic not only for the student’s placement but also for his/her individualized program. The principle was to be applied through the provision of a continuum of placements (and by extension, continuum of services) that would vary in restrictiveness, where restrictiveness typically translated into the degree of opportunity for participation within the general education classroom (Yell, 2011).

While the principle of LRE clearly mitigates against automatic inclusion in the general education classroom, lawmakers appear to have at least intended that students with disabilities should be educated alongside their nondisabled peers to the greatest extent possible (Taylor, 2001). The 1997 and 2004 reauthorizations explicitly drew students with disabilities directly into the general education experience by requiring them to participate in district-wide testing, as well as through the emphasis on access to the general education curriculum (Yell, 2011). Still, despite the direction of legislative activity toward inclusive environments, the field remains conflicted on the suitability of one kind of placement, i.e., the general education classroom, for all students (Kauffman et al., 2002; Maloney, 1994/1995; Zigmond et al., 2009). While many inclusive education scholars are committed to inclusion in the mainstream classroom, they, too, recognize that some circumstances may call for alternative decisions (Gabel, 2005; Schwarz, 2007).

The debates around placement and appropriate education of students with disabilities index a complex ontology of schooling places and spaces that implicates curriculum, pedagogy, and professional specialization, among many other elements. Indeed, the discourse of education itself is strewn with metaphors of space that speak to differences in ways of conceiving student learning and achievement between researchers and policy makers (Paechter, 2004). To a large extent, analyses of place within much of educational research have approached it as a determinate object of study: as a naturalized entity with fixed boundaries that is more often than not understood as a backdrop against which the phenomenon under investigation takes place (Gulson & Symes, 2007). Place is also considered in counterposition to space, which is seen as less localized, more abstract, and affording movement. While place is understood as the location of lived, bounded, and authentic experience, space remains “out there,” as amorphous and porous.

In recent years, a growing scholarship marking the “spatial turn” in social science research has disrupted such essentialist and binary notions of place and space (Larsen & Beech, 2014; Massey, 1993, 1994, 2009; Soja, 2010). These scholars have argued for an understanding of human experience that includes not only the social and historical dimensions that arguably have been privileged in the social sciences, but also the spatial dimension. Integrating this additional dimension would require considering the external environment not merely as a bounded container within which people interact, but as inseparable from the activities of people within and outside of it (Lupton, 2010). Spaces produce certain kinds of identities that in turn are implicated in the production of that space (Massey, 1993). Rather than a neutral stage, therefore, space is dynamic and relational; it is socially constructed, even as the social is spatially constructed (Gulson & Symes, 2007). Place may be considered a “subset of the interactions within space, a local articulation within the wider whole” (Massey, 1993, p. 115). It is subsumed within space such that they implicate and constitute each other.

One example of the fluid relations between place and space resides in the notion of diaspora, wherein sociopolitical identities are produced in relation to near or distant homelands, often under conditions of political exclusion or discrimination. Diaspora discourse has become increasingly “loose in the world” (Clifford, 1994, p. 306), with global movements of peoples within and across national borders. Without intending to trivialize the oppressive conditions that frequently inform the experiences of many displaced communities, I take up the construct of diaspora as consonant with Soja’s notion of Thirdspace within his “trialectics of spatiality” (Soja, 1996). Soja’s trialectics subsumes a Firstspace that is material, measurable and observable; a Secondspace that is ideational, relating to spaces as conceived; and a Thirdspace that is the lived experience that works against the duality of the first two and where all the dichotomies of human experience come together. He introduces the practice of “thirding-as-othering” as “an assertively different and intentionally disruptive way of (re)interpreting the relation” between polarities such as “colonizer and the colonized, the center and the periphery, Firstworlds and Thirdworlds” (1996, p. 126). This abandonment of binaries in the search for a space of radical openness that marks Soja’s Thirdspace invokes “the processes of multilocationality across geographical, cultural and psychic boundaries” (Brah, 2003, p. 625) that characterize the concept of diaspora. This is also foregrounded in feminist theorizing of borderland spaces inherent to the experiences of immigrant and displaced communities that Soja uses to illustrate the inclusivity of Thirdspace epistemologies (Anzaldua, 1987; Soja, 1996).

Unlike the “trialectics of being” that informs Soja’s theory and which includes historicality, sociality, and spatiality (Soja, 1996), place has generally been folded into the social when describing the historical marginalization of students with disabilities. For instance, linkages between the history of institutionalization in the U.S. and education in segregated spaces such as self-contained classrooms and buildings (typically used for students with labels of moderate and severe disabilities) have been persuasively made when analyzing the nature and quality of curricular experience, pedagogical approaches, and expected outcomes within these environments (Kliewer & Drake, 1998; Osgood, 2000; Trent, 1994). Such scholarship is vital for understanding the sociopolitical dimension of placement in schools. It implicates relations between nondisabled professionals and individuals with disabilities, the status of intellectual and developmental disability in cultural narratives, meanings of “normalcy” and “difference,” as well as conceptions of student learning and achievement. In that regard, it has addressed both the empirical dimensions of place as well as its linkage with societal values that are necessary for a broader and politicized understanding of place (Gruenewald, 2003a, 2003b).1

The critical intent of these analyses notwithstanding, container-like visions of social spaces of learning continue to dominate, with places still possessing a fixed, essential character that remains static while the sociohistorical narrative of disability unfolds (Leander, Phillips, & Taylor, 2010). In other words, it is the temporal and societal dimensions that are being addressed in understanding the ontology of such spaces (Soja, 2010). To include a spatial dimension, such a historically mediated understanding of place must equally be informed by the notion of space as “the simultaneous coexistence of social interrelations and interactions at all spatial scales, from the most local level to the most global” and as inextricably linked to time (Massey, 1994, p. 153). The identity of segregated educational spaces, for instance, is constructed out of the myriad complex social processes that occur at family, school, community, district, national, and international planes. The simultaneity of such relations means that space itself is not static (Raffo, 2011); rather, these very interrelations construct space (and time). While many descriptions of disability (see, e.g., Trent, 1994) try to capture such simultaneity to a significant extent, similar analyses of disability and school spaces are less frequent in the literature (for one exception, see Armstrong, 2007).

In rejecting fixed boundaries, spatial theory calls for the recognition that the social relations that inform boundaries are not only ones of antagonism and that the mere construction of a boundary does not necessarily constitute an oppositional inside and outside (Massey, 2009). Massey further argued that “we should question any characterization of place which is singular, essentialist, and which relies on a view of there having been one past of this place, one story to tell, most particularly where that story is an internalized one of the evolution of that place within its bounds” (1993, p. 114). To give place fixed boundaries, she noted, is to give them fixed, unchanging identities, what she refers to as “internalized histories” (p. 115) that are enclosed from the outside.

The argument that the identities of places themselves are unfixed and in a continual process of becoming (Larsen & Beech, 2014) does not suggest that places do not have certain specificities that make them uniquely different from other places. For instance, self-contained classrooms/buildings cluster students based on certain notions of ability/disability, operate on different kinds of schedules, contain different configurations of professionals; their physical and instructional arrangements reflect these characteristics. However, an analysis of this kind of place must also account for the social interactions that intersect within it, how they are interpreted by people and appropriated in their lives, and the new trajectories of experiences that are generated by it. Massey (1993) refers to this as the “double articulation” of the identity of a place. Places are constructed through the construction of actors within them, which in turn produces the place. This implies that interpretations of the meaning of a place are always going to be many, varied, and contested, and the struggle to uphold certain meanings always political. Such a political struggle is not only about how such places are empirically constituted—for instance, where “special education” classrooms should be located within a general education building—but also about the very conceptualization of such places. It is the latter process, Massey (1993) argued, that can easily succumb to an essentialist understanding—for instance, special classrooms as constituting either a neutral option or a form of ableist practice—that can foreclose alternate trajectories of interpretations.

In what ways, if any, would a spatialized theorizing enhance what we already know to advance efforts related to inclusion? Armstrong (2007) adopted a spatial lens to understand the attempts of a school to include students with disabilities. Taking up Soja’s trialectics of spatiality, she proposed that the phenomenon of exclusion of children from schools need not be explained only in terms of a materialist-dualist position, i.e., due to barriers of the built environment or to imagined differences. Instead, “Thirdspace would embrace both these explanatory strands, but would envisage a far more complex, dynamic, space in which there is constant change and flux and fragmentation informed by material conditions and constraints, local cultures, individual beliefs, power struggles, competing interests and discourses, movement, and shifting understandings” (Armstrong, 1999, p. 104). An analysis of inclusion that is subjected to such a spatialized scrutiny may disclose not only the spatial construction of disability within schools, but also an accounting of social spaces that can stimulate new linkages between place and learning (Gabel, Cohen, Kotel, & Pearson, 2013).


The data for this paper were drawn from research that I conducted in the northeastern and midwestern U.S. between 2005 and 2014 (Naraian, 2008, 2010a, 2011a, 2016; Naraian & Oyler, 2014). The settings for these studies were in U.S. public schools and included two first-grade classrooms (one urban, one suburban), one fourth-grade classroom (urban), and one suburban high school. Purposeful sampling (Maxwell, 2005) was used to select the sites. The criterion for the selection of the first-grade classrooms was that they should include at least one student with significant disabilities. The high school, too, was selected because of its efforts to include students with significant disabilities in general education classrooms. The selection of the fourth-grade classroom was derived from the particular focus for that study, which was an investigation of the use of assistive technology in inclusive classrooms to support literacy development. Educators who were directly involved in the education of the focal students with disabilities in these studies were invited to participate in the interviews. Qualitative methodology is well suited for the study of inclusion, not only because positivistic approaches have historically reproduced inequitable relations between society and disability (Gallagher, 2006), but also because it enables understanding of process (Maxwell, 2005). In all of the studies, I employed ethnographic techniques of extended participant-observation extending from four to nine months; interviews with teachers, students, and their families; and document analysis (Merriam, 2009). The research questions that fueled these studies were focused on deepening understandings of participation for students with disabilities in classrooms that purported to be inclusive. Extensive field notes and verbatim transcripts of interviews provided rich data to understand the processes of implementing inclusive practices. Additionally, teacher interview data from a nine-month professional development sequence that I conducted in a northeastern urban school district were also included in the analysis for this paper (Naraian & Oyler, 2014). Data for this paper drew from a total of 19 interviews that I conducted with nine educators, most of them singly, a few jointly. Interviews were typically 40–60 minutes long.

In keeping with the requirements for a robust cross-case analysis (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007), data analysis for all these studies was first independently completed, generating qualitative products that described a range of phenomena relevant to inclusive education occurring within these sites (Naraian, 2008, 2010a, 2010b, 2011a, 2011b, 2016; Naraian & Oyler, 2016). This paper emerged from a specific focus on the spoken discourse of teachers who participated in these studies. They included two elementary special education teachers, one high school special education teacher, two elementary general education teachers, one high school general education teacher, two dually certified elementary education teachers, and one elementary school principal (see Table 1).

Table 1. Interview Data Sources Utilized in This Study


* Angie participated in one joint interview with Stephanie; Stephanie was also interviewed jointly with her general education co-teacher in December 2008.

** Anita and Maria participated in three interviews jointly.

*** For the purposes of this study, “dually certified” refers to certification in both general and special education.

Since debates on the issue of validity in qualitative research contain at their core the question of what counts as evidence (Altheide & Johnson, 2011; Polkinghorne, 2007), the paper reflects the guidance given to researchers that the validity of an argument may be assessed, not in terms of certainty, but in terms of its credibility and plausibility (Polkinghorne, 2007). To this end, its claims are supported with evidence from the data, such as direct quotations, whenever possible, as well as samples of raw data for each category derived during the analysis (Appendix A). Additionally, a visual representation of the process of data analysis has been included so that readers can view the progression of thought that underlay the thematic construction and interpretations proffered in this paper (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Phases of data analysis with development of categories and thematic construction


Adopting a constant-comparative method and an inductive, iterative process (Merriam, 2009), I performed several levels of coding and categorizing. The initial scrutiny during Phase I involved identifying all the different meanings invoked by place within teacher discourse. These were subsequently grouped into thirteen categories. Further analysis of these categories during Phase II disclosed two broad yet persistent themes, namely, bounded knowledge claims and movement across bounded knowledges. In Phase III, the categorizing stimulated by reviewing the data via these two themes disclosed the separation of school and family knowledges. More significantly, it implicated student learning need in the configuration of places in schools, as well as the effects of boundaries between general and special education on teacher competency and agency. Additionally, by coding movement across bounded knowledges through the categories of who (the disciplinary status of educators), how (the methods and mechanisms utilized), and where (the physical spaces where movement took place), the additional themes of access and student connectedness vs. learning need were generated. This was followed by the analytic strategy of mapping the emerging network of themes and categories (Maxwell, 2005). This served the function of data reduction while also enabling it to provide greater explanatory power for the linkage between place, learning need, and teacher identity.

The “evidentiary narrative” that emerges from the assemblage of stories that is represented in this paper is inevitably tied to the particular contexts from which the stories emerged (Altheide & Johnson, 2011). A detailed description of each research context is outside the scope of this paper, though it has been provided elsewhere (Naraian, 2008, 2010a, 2011a, 2016). However, to strengthen the credibility of the arguments proposed in this paper, I have included a table that lists the methodological procedures for each site that generated the data for each study (see Table 2). Interview data used for this paper emerged in the context of prolonged engagement in the field for each of those studies. Given that the combination of multiple perspectives and empirical practices adds rigor and depth to an inquiry (Merriam, 2009), the development of categories for this paper emerged from triangulating interview data with extensive field notes maintained for each site. So, for instance, the category of connectedness that emerged from the interviews with Anita/Maria, Jessica, and Stephanie during Phase II of the analysis could be persuasively established when analyzing the field notes that spoke to the systematic ways in which each of the teachers sought to implement a community in the classroom where all students were valued as equal members. Similarly, the category of place-within-place was readily contextualized by the notes from each setting, where numerous opportunities for creating spaces that bridged professional divisions were observed. Additionally, interview data from multiple groups within each school community, including therapists, paraprofessionals, and families, supplied further triangulation that could consolidate the linkages made during data analysis for this study.

Table 2. Data Sources for Each of the Studies From Which Interview Data Were Drawn


The following sections present the themes as represented in Figure 1. The first section maps out current imaginings of place/space in schools secured through bounded knowledge fields. The second section describes the movements within and between such bounded places/spaces for realizing an inclusive practice. This will be followed by a closer analysis of two examples of teacher efforts to reimagine place for their students.


Across studies, school came to signify a series of fixed, restricted places whose boundaries were continually reinforced as students, teachers, and families participated in claims to skills, knowledges, and authority. The following paragraphs describe how the locations of actors in various school places indexed competing knowledge claims that had consequential effects for all.


I begin with a boundary that was universally acknowledged by all educators in the studies: the demarcation of schools as being the inside and all other places, particularly the home, as the outside. In other words, educators were in, families were out, and students had to be supported in their movement from outside to inside. Jessica, an elementary teacher, described her goal for her students: “I want them to love coming to school. I love the fact that we are about to have winter break and they say they are sad because they love coming to school” (Interview, December, 2005). This was always the assumed direction of learning; there was little evidence of needing to support students in their journey from the inside to the outside. It was also the assumed direction in envisioning any encounters between representations of this inside and outside. It was common, therefore, to hear teachers distinguishing between mothers who were too busy to come to school and others who might be “very supportive” and ready to “come in” when called by the teachers.

This manner of constructing school as inside meant the privileging of certain kinds of knowledges and, more importantly, the construction of outside knowledge (in this case, of families) as peripheral and sometimes alarming. Paul, a high school special educator and mathematics teacher, in embarking on his first home visit expressed his anxieties about hearing family stories. Even as he welcomed “their sharing of their funds of knowledge and their experiences and their stories,” he worried about “endangerment” to himself. The encounter with families afforded the possibility of sharing knowledge that, by its very personal nature, could place educators, who are typically designated as mandated reporters2 within school systems, under threat of professional misconduct. So while he might be able to better police that form of sharing with students by saying, “If you tell me anything about hurting yourself or someone else, I go and tell,” with families it was different; “It’s coming to my home. Coming to my home, you know. I am going to see what’s in your home” (italics indicates speaker’s emphasis) (Interview, March 25, 2011). Paul’s suggestion here that there was an unpredictable side to family experience for which he was unprepared could be confirmed by the field notes from the professional development sessions during which he openly laid out his concerns about family visits. This exaggerated fear of such unknown experience may have equally reflected his discomfort with the socioeconomic conditions of families and students in his school community.

This form of response to families was more tempered, yet still visible, in the case of Stephanie, an elementary teacher. Stephanie perceived some families as capable of disrupting her inclusive efforts. Identifying parents as one of her biggest challenges to building a community, she remarked on one parent’s injunction to her son not to sit beside a particular student: “I was like, do you realize what you are saying to [her son]? . . . What’s the pattern of community that you’re giving him? I don’t like somebody, therefore I can be mean to them?” (Interview, January 16, 2009) Stephanie stated emphatically that that attitude “totally works against what we’re talking about in the classroom and what we’re trying to build.” She was simultaneously confident of educating families to recognize the need for a community spirit to support their children, and she planned to host a parent meet-and-greet to raise their awareness of this issue.

Across studies, therefore, it seemed that educators perceived schools and their classroom spaces both as affording protection (to students) and as needing protection (from families). Inasmuch as the professionalism of educators appeared to have brought with it this disprivileging of the presumed unscientific knowledge of families (Auerbach, 2007; Ferguson, 2002; Lightfoot, 2004), in the very construction of schools as inside-place, families were always already positioned as compromising the work of schools and as requiring a carefully measured response. With families representing an uncertain set of experiences, any encounter between the inside and the outside could only be structured in one direction. Literally and metaphorically, the very concept of coming to school—for students or their families—was predicated on leaving home.


The construction of inside/outside to restrict movement of persons and knowledges continued within school when place became entangled with the concept of teaching-learning in complex ways. For instance, educators across studies were unanimous in describing the ways in which different school places had varying effects on students’ performances. Maria, a dually certified educator, might describe Marcelo, a student with the label of learning disabilities, as shy in academic settings, but “it’s been really nice when you catch him at lunch or other settings where he is more sociable.” Kristine, a special educator, described her students in other ways—“they were in a room at [self-contained school] with other kids who screamed and yelled, so of course they weren’t learning appropriate behaviors.” Places, it seemed, presumed varying competencies in students, thereby restricting their movement between them. So Anita (a fourth-grade general educator) was anxious that Marcelo should develop the confidence to advocate for himself in order to successfully remain in future general education classrooms. On the other hand, Melissa, a high school Foods teacher, was frustrated that Michael, a wheelchair user with significant disabilities, was in her classroom, when she had “24 kids who have to get out of his way” (Interview, April 26, 2006).

Whatever the effects of places on students, there was no consensus among educators about the nature of student competencies required by places, which consequently complicated students’ assignment to those places. So even as Melissa lamented that being in her classroom was a “waste” of Michael’s time because “he can’t do anything,” Stephanie, a dually certified educator, argued against the eligibility criterion for inclusion operative in her school: “These children [students labeled as disabled] don’t cleanly fall into the category of having physical disabilities, and being intellectually average—that’s such an unfair requirement.” (Interview, February 27, 2009) Similarly, a general educator like Anita could respond to a student with moderate speech and language difficulties in her classroom with a baffled, “Why does he need an IEP?”3 (Interview, April 15, 2013) while other educators in her school equally wondered why he wasn’t placed in a self-contained classroom. Clearly, there was no universally accepted method for gauging the fit between student competencies and place characteristics to determine whether students should be inside or outside specific places.

Additionally, it was unclear if some places, particularly self-contained special education places, did indeed require any specific student competencies at all. On the contrary, these places were seen as more malleable and plastic in their features to suit student characteristics. Melissa argued for Michael, a student with significant disabilities, to be in a class “with four or six kids, you know, who are on his level that you can work with each one of them and have time with them and do things that are appropriate for them.” (Interview, April 26, 2006). Or it might afford the possibility of helping students acquire appropriate social skills so that they “weren’t doing the screaming” (Kristine, Interview, October 18, 2005). Clearly, it permitted pedagogical flexibility, so that as Paul described, “If we’re rocking and rolling on Catcher in the Rye, and the bell rings, we still keep going, rocking and rolling with Catcher in the Rye, and I’ll do math tomorrow.” (Interview, June 24, 2011) Some of these places seemed to perform a more complicated role. They could serve as a secure place to deposit novice or ill-prepared teachers, “because who cares about their [students with emotional disabilities] test scores?” (Paul) (Interview, March 25, 2011).

Inasmuch as place requirements for student competencies informed teachers’ practical knowledge of student placement, their own conceptions of learners also served to further strengthen the boundaries between such places. Importantly, it was the learning of students without disabilities that figured most prominently in their concerns. On the one hand, Melissa worried that nondisabled peers should not be overly taxed in assisting students with disabilities (“They need to be kids too” Interview, April 26, 2006). In other words, placing too many demands on peers was counterproductive to the role of other spaces designed more specifically for the purpose of supporting students with significant disabilities. On the other hand, Jessica, arguing for inclusion of a student with significant disabilities, observed that unless people could see “the social component for other kids” they would not understand “how the other kids were benefitting”(Interview, October 13 , 2005). An unspoken corollary to this was that if the student with disabilities was perceived to be drawing the teachers’ attention away from other students, then some other place would be more appropriate for him/her. Jessica’s argument presumed that not only are some students’ placements contingent on perceptions of benefit to others, but also that within some spaces, the issue of loss of teacher attention for the learner was less relevant. Clearly, the demarcation of students as belonging inside or outside particular places might have been as much an artifact of educators’ perceptions of different types of learners as they appeared to be predetermined.


Even as teachers’ engagement with place requirements for student competencies worked to maintain such inside/outside relations among learners within schools, the creation of place-boundaries was no less interconnected with teacher competency. This is partly illustrated in Paul’s description of his colleagues’ responses to particular categories of disabled students. “When teachers completely integrate classrooms, they are saying, ‘Oh God, we are going to get another blah blah blah,’ and the kid’s name they usually say is a behavioral-issue kid and not a learning-disabled kid” (Interview, September 26, 2011). Not only had the demarcation of student-learners as falling within different ability categories already created the boundaries for different places, but moving them successfully across those boundaries required competencies that teachers might not possess. Indeed, across research sites, places were understood as enabling or constraining teachers’ agency to manage their own learning. Whether it was movement from middle to high school or from special education to general education spaces, teachers continually experienced themselves as being on the inside or outside of knowledge/practice domains with little, if any, control in maintaining and/or negotiating those locations.

The boundary that was felt most acutely by the teachers in this study was the one that separated general- from special education settings. Though repeatedly breached, this boundary also left intact the primacy of the general education space. For instance, immersed in her own curricular planning, Melissa, as the high school general educator, was completely unprepared to integrate Michael, a student with significant disabilities. “When the door opened, it changed, you know” (Interview, April 26, 2006). The unexpected encounter with special education that “shocked” her spoke to both her perceived safe location within the default setting (the general education classroom) and her sense of vulnerability to experiences that might lie outside of that, leaving her uncertain about her own competence: “I am not trained in this.” Field notes disclosed that during her classes, Michael either sat quietly (while other students took notes from texts or lectures) or watched films. His greatest participation in her classes emerged not from any direct intervention on her part to include him but from the efforts of peer students in his group who might involve him in the actual preparation of foods during labs.

For special educators, however, the primacy of the general education setting was only too apparent, often painfully so, as it persistently interfered with their ability to negotiate the development of their professional competencies. At the core was the issue of working with a stigmatized group of students. This might be reflected more directly in the attitude of general school personnel who “hated us because they were all afraid of our kids” (Paul) (Interview, March 25, 2011). Or it might affect their opportunities for professional advancement, because school leaders continued to associate special educators with self-contained settings rather than seeing them as “well-rounded” (Stephanie) teachers who could provide independent instruction in a general education setting. Such historically negative perceptions were additionally reflected in family understandings of classrooms managed by special educators (even if they were dually certified) as “second-rate.” Not only did special educators have to contend with this secondary status vis à vis the general education classroom, but they might, as Angie suggested in her interview, also be required to work in multiple, disconnected spaces to perform generic responsibilities such as lunch duty or to substitute for an absent teacher in any classroom (Interview, February 27, 2009).

This unpredictable deployment of special educators over a disparate range of school places further restricted their opportunities for professional growth, calling, therefore, for more intentional management of their professional identities. Angie, a special educator, regretted that she was not permitted to stay longer in the general education classroom where she had been substituting; she desired the experience of working with not only general education students, but also students with significant disabilities whom she did not typically encounter (Interview, February 27, 2009). Noting the inequities that special educators encountered, Stephanie vigorously argued for them to proactively advocate for themselves with administrative leaders. In the absence of such deliberate self-advocacy, she warned, the boundaries between general and special education systems would be strengthened, making “general ed really more preferable than special ed” (Interview, February 27, 2009).

The preceding paragraphs illustrate some ways in which educators participated in maintaining the limits of school places. To a significant extent, they seemed to perceive places as possessing static or fixed identities (Massey, 1993), which positioned them in different ways in relation to students and families as well as to their own colleagues. Yet, as the data showed, this was not always the case. Teachers’ conceptions of learning (their own as well as that of students) were also inextricably tied to the demands that emanated from place-characteristics. Students did not cleanly meet the requirements of places, and their own identities as professionals were produced via the historically mediated beliefs and practices that were implicated within those places. Such a double articulation of place-identity, wherein places both produce actors and are produced via them (Massey, 1993), evokes place as unfixed and shifting rather than static and as bearing the potential for other narratives. This tension in educators’ perception of places surfaced repeatedly as they actively sought to create new or modified places that could be inclusive of students with disabilities.


It’s kind of like going to a foreign country, you know. At first, you are really scared and then you’re like, “Oh, I’ll never fit in,” or things will be really strange. But then, after a while, you get to know the people and you see the lay of the land, and then it’s like, “Oh, we are not that dissimilar, actually,” Stephanie, describing nondisabled students’ reactions when finding themselves in a first-grade inclusive classroom with peers with disabilities (Interview, January 16, 2009).

The struggles for inclusion created many different kinds of places; the identities of such places emerged in the intersection of competing foundational premises, teacher competencies, and perceptions of students as learners. Notwithstanding that Stephanie’s observation above was a description of students rather teachers, it is a fitting place to begin an examination of the ways in which places and boundaries blended, collided, and re-formed, a process that reflects the contradictions and possibilities of Thirdspace (Soja, 1996). For the most part, some aspects of place (“you see the lay of the land”) remained fixed and unalterable, but it also bore the potential to produce change (the transformation from being “scared” to recognizing others as not “dissimilar”). With the boundaries of the general education setting typically assumed as given and fixed, the most frequent and readily available means of manipulating place was to create place-within-place options. This might mean administering a learning center in the school that was available to all students in the building, including students with disabilities; delivering specialized services to students alongside their nondisabled peers in the general education classroom; or creating flexible learning spaces within the school or classroom, with students arranged in various configurations. Such place-within-place options were anchored in one of two primary premises: student connectedness or student learning need. Each served as an organizing logic that set in motion particular forms of practice.


Some teachers—namely Stephanie, Jessica, Anita, and Maria—approached the work of inclusion as interconnected with the formation of a cohesive classroom community that provided all students with the resources to aid their academic and social-emotional development. This meant that besides supporting students with disabilities, the places they created within classrooms for disabled and nondisabled students to come together were equally designed to meet the “community” needs of general education students. Whether it was helping students see that using a switch to activate a voice recording was a “relevant” goal for a peer with significant disabilities (Jessica, Interview, October 13, 2005), or taking pains to represent students with disabilities in normalizing ways (Stephanie), or “broadening the band of normal” (Anita, field notes, April 11, 2013) during class discussions, these teachers made the development of nondisabled students’ learning integral to their inclusive pedagogy. For instance, Anita and her co-teacher Maria, having carefully selected a classroom reading text about the story of a student with significant disabilities, were observed to lead classroom discussions that could promote student understanding of the consequential impact of adult and peer responses to disability. Stephanie, too, was observed on several occasions to carefully represent students to each other in ways that would affirm the standing of each as a valued member of the classroom. Like Jessica, their primary objective was to facilitate a classroom community where all students remained connected with one another.

Other place-within-place options operated differently. Kristine, a special educator who facilitated the Learning Center in her school, explained that she worked with students, with and without disability labels, whether they were on her caseload or not: “I mean it just kind of depends on their needs” (Interview, October 18, 2005). Using the logic of need, the center was designed to welcome any student, so that if “somebody is having a behavioral problem, a meltdown, or they just need to get away” (Interview, October 18, 2005) they could be sent to the center. Kristine’s description also included an implicit hierarchizing of needs, such that students “with IEPs” might be obliged to use it, while those who did not were simply offered it as an option. This form of place-within-place option could also take the form of instructional groupings in the classroom, where student arrangement was configured based on similar learning needs. This, however, might not be fully effective, because as Angie, a special educator, pointed out, students “all have extremely different needs” that might still make pulling them out to a separate location a far more efficient option (Interview, February 27, 2009). In envisioning a functioning inclusive environment, Paul pushed the focus on learning need even further to wonder whether dyslexia in math was different from just special education math, thereby requiring a differently specialized professional. In other words, student learning need could not only determine schooling places, but professional competencies as well (Interview, September 26, 2011).

Still, even as these two premises—student connectedness and student learning need—created different kinds of inclusive places, educators could not keep them wholly separate in their decision-making. Laney, principal of an elementary school, explained her rationale for distributing students with disabilities across different classrooms: She tried to make IEP minutes for teachers “pretty equal as far as meetings to attend,” but “even more significant-needs students would be with the two teachers who were all for inclusion” (emphasis added) (Interview, November 28, 2005). In another instance, although Stephanie, a dually certified teacher, worked to create a transparent and inclusive classroom community (Naraian, 2011a), she simultaneously held herself responsible for the effective instructional programming of students with a range of learning needs that might include both significant disabilities and students considered at risk for academic failure. Distinctively separate as the orientations of individual need and community connectedness might be, the process of securing inclusion necessitated that they be considered together.

Indeed, such intertwining of premises could be quite generative for students. Stephanie understood that one of her students with disabilities might not be fully able to achieve the learning benchmarks required by the general education space, but “that is not to say that he cannot do the work without the right access” (Stephanie, Interview, January 16, 2009). In other words, the intertwining of learning need with the goal of student connectedness made more readily visible the issue of accessibility. This might be addressed in various ways, such as through the creative use of technological devices that could increase the quality of student participation4 or through teachers’ public interpretations of non-normative student behaviors that could facilitate their standing in the classroom community. It simultaneously produced dilemmas, because the objective of addressing student need could easily conflict with the goals of connectedness. For instance, affording extended time and attention to individual students required a more concerted emphasis on individual need. While a teacher like Stephanie or Jessica might still prioritize the benefits of classroom connectedness and create opportunities within the general education classroom space for those needs to be met, others like Angie might argue that “if they were pulled out on a one-to-one basis, they might be moving even quicker” (Interview, February 27, 2009). Interestingly, Anita resolved this dilemma by eschewing an either-or approach and adopting the position that the recognition of learning needs did not negate an inclusive ethos; rather, it supported the basis for inclusive classrooms, because it “mimics more of what real life is” (Interview, April 15, 2013).

Nevertheless, the two different organizing principles impacted teachers’ pedagogical approaches and priorities. On the one hand, using the logic of learning need at the Learning Center, Kristine developed a generic curriculum that was “just very basic stuff” with “lots of board games and lots of things we can do with letters and numbers and those types of things” (Interview, October 18, 2005). At the high school, Melissa kept her curriculum for nondisabled students intact, electing instead to develop a separate, individual relationship with Michael (a student with significant disabilities) in order to design simple experiences that matched his learning needs. On the other hand, field notes indicated that using the logic of student connectedness and balancing academic goals with social-emotional goals for all students, Stephanie and Jessica were observed to draw on a variety of instructional arrangements, curricular materials, content-area strategies, and extensive professional collaboration to achieve a range of educational objectives (Naraian, 2008; 2011a). Not surprisingly, their practices led to opportunities for mutually influencing disciplinary boundaries. For instance, Stephanie illustrated how “the special ed part is informing what we do to the general curriculum,” (Interview, February 27, 2009) when the strategies used to provide curricular access to some students (with disabilities) could just as readily be utilized for all students. On the same count, the special education emphasis on documenting the learning of individual students ensured that all students and teachers in the inclusive classroom were held to high expectations.


The two organizational premises of places wrought complex effects equally on teachers’ sense of self-efficacy and on the ways they monitored their own professional competence. In the absence of any “training” to work with Michael’s needs, Melissa only hoped that she had been able to “make him laugh and maybe add a little bit to his day.” On the other hand, acknowledging teachers’ desires of “wanting to meet everybody’s need” and the importance of adequate preparation to feel competent, Jessica could still assess her efficacy as an inclusive educator in terms of the “life skills” that the students in her class were acquiring when understanding their peers with disabilities. Stephanie, working collaboratively with her general education colleague, shared this perspective but also found additional ways to monitor her own effectiveness. Conceding that, after several years of collaboration, her general education partner did not require certain supports from her anymore, she nevertheless identified her ability to recognize “the learning gap” (Interview, February 27, 2009) for individual students as superior to that of general education teachers, who were largely only accustomed to implementing class-wide curricular planning.

Across the studies, educators inhabited the complexities of Thirdspace, navigating the real constraints and affordances of their settings with precepts of imagined inclusive communities to create alternate learning spaces for their students (Soja, 1996). The intertwining of student connectedness with learning need as the organizing logic of inclusive places heralded the potential for deeper transformative effects on curriculum and pedagogy as well as on disciplinary boundaries. An exclusive focus on learning need as the fundamental premise for place creation, however, was less likely to bring about curricular transformations and more likely to reinforce professional boundaries. In recent years, the emergence of learning need, particularly non-normative learning need, has been associated with a range of sociocultural and political phenomena that have established it as a socially constructed phenomenon rather than as inherent to the learner (Dudley-Marling, 2004; Sleeter, 1986). Inclusive educators have drawn on such research to argue for educational spaces that can offer flexibility in curricular and instructional approaches, thereby making them hospitable to diverse types of learners. Still, the identification of students as possessing some need or other (usually non-normative) is often the cornerstone of effectively functioning school systems. For instance, it is currently not uncommon in various parts of the world to distinguish learners who have “special educational needs” from those who do not. Consequently, even the Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994) that codifies the international commitment to inclusive schooling remains caught within the discourse of “special educational needs” when describing inclusive educational places.

Theoretically incompatible with inclusion as the construct of “learning need” might be, it nevertheless remained inseparable from it in the ways in which the identities of inclusive places emerged within teacher discourse in this study. Data from this study disclosed that not only did it remain preeminent in teachers’ efforts to create particular kinds of places, but that for all teachers, it continued to serve as an important and reliable means to assess teacher self-worth and establish professional boundaries. This means that, counterintuitively, the inseparability of these conflicting constructs within inclusive practice may be just as deeply, if not more deeply, entangled with the socialization of teachers into their professional roles and competencies as with student characteristics.


Across sites, the process of considering placement for students in one type of classroom or another was frequently accompanied by an intense, even painful, soul-searching, a thoughtful reflection, an awareness of the political and material conditions in which decisions had to be made, and, above all, a strong compulsion to act on behalf of students. Often unavailable (or only partially so) within everyday accounts of school places, these complex stories of decision-making are an integral part of the histories of places in which students with disabilities are included. They are, therefore, always imbricated in the identities of such places. In this section, I describe the struggles of educators in two settings—co-teachers Anita and Maria at the elementary school, and Paul at the high school—as they reflected on this process for their students. Their narratives illustrate the idea of places as living and breathing, continually shifting in function and limits, giving rise to new imaginings of boundaries, purposes, and occupants.

As Anita and Maria went about infusing a broad array of instructional approaches to create a classroom that would embrace all learners, they grappled with one student, Sam, labeled as learning disabled, who clearly was not achieving the same academic and social-emotional goals as most of his peers. Committed to a social justice stance, they willingly afforded the time, consideration, and flexibility that his unique learning performance demanded within the protective confines of their classroom. The dilemma arose when considering his future middle school experience and the likelihood of finding a similar collaboratively taught program. Their ruminations on Sam centered on his emotional experience of being a learner and on their inability to decode his emotional state. The extreme unpredictability of his emotional reactions within the classroom meant that the only certain knowledge they could claim about him was to recognize signs of frustration when he was unable to “get it.” Otherwise, they remained nonplussed by his constantly changing emotional state, as he went from being “catatonic” one moment to nonchalant and unperturbed the next. But they also recognized that he was “funny” and had a good “work ethic,” and they clearly saw him as an integral member of their classroom (Interview, April 15, 2013). It was also clear that even though they generally respected his mother’s involvement in his education, they did not perceive her as needing to participate in the resolution of their dilemma regarding Sam’s future placement.

Their description of Sam engaged only indirectly with the concept of learning need. When describing his level of maturity with peers, Anita was more likely to say “that is his way of socializing,” fully aware that his peers seemed rarely uncomfortable with his form of play. They recognized that it was the expectations of the environment (particularly when having to take a test) that placed Sam under so much stress that it might leave him in a “fetal position” or unable to demonstrate his learning in any meaningful way. Their main goal for him was to recognize (Interview, May 29, 2013). his rising levels of frustration and be able to draw the teacher’s attention to it before he “shut down.” Increasingly, they had begun to see evidence that when he worked in a small group, he was much more self-directed and able to experience greater levels of success. Still, when the school psychologist wondered aloud why he was not in a small self-contained setting, they were less than enthusiastic. Sam’s apparent need may have seemed to map neatly on to a readily available placement option for that professional, but for these teachers, it was clearly a much more complex issue. Certainly, the mere proximity of a teacher in a small setting created conditions for him to feel more capable and produce satisfactory work. However, it also needed to be a setting that could recognize that he was a competent learner who could engage in knowledgeable interactions, and they were simply unconvinced that self-contained places currently available could permit that. Furthermore, any school within the public school system would inevitably require some kind of quantitative evidence of Sam’s capability and, in that regard, would always fail him, because despite environmental modifications, he still experienced testing as inordinately stressful.

Still, even as they resolutely resisted the idea of recommending a small self-contained setting, they were unable to completely eliminate that choice. They were uncertain that the current type of collaboratively taught classroom had been wholly successful for Sam, but they were also aware that the school currently did not have the resources to provide Sam additional supports in such a setting. Though Anita and Maria were committed supporters of inclusion and to the struggle against the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon, they still could not bring themselves to deliberately include services on the IEP that they knew the school could not make available, because that would position it as “out of compliance”. They were far too embedded within the school community to take up such a subversive option. Not surprisingly, weighing the demands of a singly taught middle-school classroom with 33 students and the affordances of a small-group setting, they tilted, albeit reluctantly, in the direction of a self-contained special education classroom as Sam’s future placement.

At the high school, Paul found himself in a stronger position to implement change. Although he was a certified special educator, Paul’s facility in mathematics education opened up unexpected opportunities; not only did he become the lead teacher in a co-taught math classroom,5 he planned the high school math curriculum in ways that would leave incoming students with disabilities within general education spaces rather than in self-contained rooms. He began with the belief that all students, regardless of disability label, would and should take the state-sponsored high school examinations required for graduation. Therefore, along with his general education colleagues, he conceived and implemented high school experiences such that students took as much or as little time as they needed (one, two, or four semesters) to prepare for the math exam. The complex rationale for student distribution across classes emerged from Paul’s understanding of the importance of establishing “safe” environments for risk-taking in math learning; the necessity of compensating for middle-school practices that prioritized IEP goals over mastery of skills; the worthlessness of an IEP diploma that meant “nothing, nothing, nothing” in the real world; and the importance of a curriculum that could allow all students to engage at their own skill level and simultaneously develop critical thinking. In his account, the teachers in these classes were only weakly distinguished by their affiliation to general or special education, since the classes themselves were open to all students. Paul was acutely conscious that these procedures for class composition and curricular management might be construed as tracking, since they were based on students’ skill level. But it was also accomplished without affecting their standing in other content areas, and it converted an externally imposed mandated requirement for graduation into an opportunity to revitalize the curriculum within all educational spaces. He preferred to refer to this system as a form of “flexible” tracking (Interview, March 25, 2011; September 26, 2011).

If the dilemma confronted by Anita and Maria arose from the certain impossibility of finding the most suitable place for Sam (after all, how could he or any other student escape the inevitability of tests?), it may have been the creative maneuvering of existing school structures to work with and against such impossibility that marked Paul’s experience. The fourth-grade teachers’ emphasis on Sam’s emotional state that permitted them to embrace him as a valued learner simultaneously became the yardstick by which the self-contained classroom was left as the default choice. They could envision a far more generous and supportive environment for him, but in the absence of that, they settled for what might be least likely to afford him emotional stress. Though Paul took no less pleasure in the emotional lives of his students and securing strong relationships with them (for instance, he was reluctant to apply for the position of a teacher coach, because this would remove him from everyday contact with students), his entry into inclusive practice occurred through the provision of certain kinds of curricular experiences. In focusing on students’ success as learners, he challenged the given boundaries of classroom spaces and the demarcation of professional boundaries, including the roles assigned to teachers. His efforts, simultaneously, continued to be stimulated by his awareness of the different skill levels that students brought in math and his dissatisfaction with the arguably impractical practice of placing students with widely varying skills within the same classroom in a high school setting. It was also patently clear that the efforts of Paul and his colleagues to implement this vision were unconditionally supported by his principal. Ironically, the disempowerment that Anita and Maria experienced arose from a similar sense of connectedness with their school community; they recognized and sympathized with the administration’s inability to procure needed resources to secure a different configuration of services that could benefit Sam.


The empowering paradox of diaspora is that dwelling here assumes a solidarity and connection there. (Clifford, 1994, p. 322)

The experiences of Paul, Anita, and Maria index the complex, continually unfolding histories of particular schooling spaces as well as the entanglement of professional knowledge domains within them, in the quest for inclusive forms of practice. As teacher-education programs increasingly prepare special education teachers to be inclusively oriented (Pugach & Blanton, 2012; Oyler, 2011), the adoption of pedagogies that straddle general- and special education knowledge domains complicates the identity status of special educators. In working toward inclusion, should they consider themselves special educators, inclusive educators, or (when dually certified) general educators—or all three (Naraian, 2010b)? The dilemma emerges from the prevailing logic of demarcating professional boundaries for teacher preparation: broadly speaking, general educators for average student learning needs, special educators for specialized needs, and inclusive educators for diverse learning needs. Not surprisingly, as the data in this study disclosed, learning need formed the pivot around which educators established their sense of competence and professional self-worth, thereby reinforcing the boundaries for different kinds of learning spaces. We require, therefore, a conceptualization of student learning differences that can generate alternate relations between teacher identity and places, such that inclusion can become a much more fluid project involving changing networks of people and activities, i.e., a diaspora space (Brah, 2000) that implicates all educators. Such a space would recognize “lived space as a strategic location from which to encompass, understand, and potentially transform all spaces simultaneously” (Soja, 1996, p. 68, emphasis in original).

While the argument for learning differences as socially constructed has been persuasively made and widely adopted to counter negative understandings of disability, it leaves theoretically unresolved the reconciliation of disability-specific priorities and the requirement of uncommon supports for some students with an inclusive pedagogy that prioritizes elastic learning arrangements. While the latter avoids the notion of individual learning need, the former has to rely on it. Siebers’s (2008) notion of disability as complex embodiment offers a way out of this conundrum. Drawing on a post-positivist realist approach that acknowledges experience as socially constructed but not only socially constructed, he argues for a materialist understanding of disability that imbricates the physical and sociohistorical conditions within which disability is experienced. Such materialist understandings, however, are always linked to causally significant verifiable realities that reflect social inequities (Mohanty, 2000). For instance, the decision to pursue separate small-group instruction for some students with disabilities based on teachers’ assessment of their learning needs may be justifiable as an instance of inclusive pedagogy, as long as it is perceived to index a causally significant reality. In this case, such a causal feature of the world might be ableism, evident, for example, in the overwhelming emphasis within schools on successful performance on tests and examinations as an indicator of student capacity and, increasingly, of teacher competence (Ravitch, 2013).

This orientation to individual student need as materially experienced, but always referencing outward to social inequities, has important implications for educators, both general and special. For special educators, it vindicates the pressing need to acknowledge the role of oppressive schooling discourses but also to engage directly with the educational needs presented by the student, without contradicting the tenets of inclusive pedagogy. Even as teachers can justifiably be proud of their skills in providing specialized instruction that addresses their students’ unique learning capacities, they can do so only by acknowledging the ideology of ability that pervades the system (Siebers, 2008). For general educators, it leaves the foundations of general schooling spaces fragile, given the lack of certainty in determining who is in and who is out of particular places, formal and informal, predetermined and teacher-created. Since any event, including learning, is materially experienced by individuals simultaneously across multiple axes of race/ethnicity, class, gender, linguistic status, etc., the emergence of any student’s “need” remains unmoored to a fixed disability category. This complicates any easy referral to an alternative system, such as special education, that is perceived to address special learning needs. Rather, it calls for a deliberate exploration of various routes for providing supports that transcend a one-size-fits-all methodology of teaching.

The forms of practice stimulated by the conception of learning need described above have implications for how teachers carve their professional identities. Professional practice that is not predicated on separate knowledge domains invokes a diasporic sensibility. Such a sensibility rejects the dualisms of inside/outside knowledges, calling instead for a simultaneous locationality across boundaries (Kooy & de Freitas, 2007; Massey, 2009). Theorizations of diaspora have questioned the implicit focus on geographical boundaries typically assumed within this concept (Brah, 2000; Brubaker, 2005; Clifford, 1994). Rather, the “multi-axial locationality” of all individuals within historically mediated experiences of transnational movement means that “the same geographical and psychic space comes to articulate different ‘histories’” (Brah, 2000, p. 615). Constructs such as “diasporic identities,” a “diaspora consciousness” (Clifford, 1994), or diaspora as a “category of practice” (Brubaker, 2005), therefore, attach significance to borders but also recognize the futility of being anchored to a concept of home (Brah, 2000). In other words, even as the disciplinary home of teachers, such as special education or general education, may be significant to their status within schools, the effectiveness of their everyday practice may emerge from their abilities to continually cross those professional boundaries.

For both general and special educators this means that besides a requirement to grow comfortable with uncertainty and ambivalence (English, 2005), their professional identities are constantly being negotiated across multiple configurations of people and places. A general educator’s identity when co-teaching with a special educator may evolve in completely different ways than when collaborating with a general educator or when instructing on her own. Or a special educator such as Stephanie, who is dually certified, may experience both general and special education quite differently when placed in the role of a general educator (Naraian, 2010b). Or an educator’s partnership with families may challenge the foundational precepts of one’s professional practice. Each opportunity for dislocation is both geographical and temporal (Massey, 1994). Not only is it predicated on how each educator understands the evolution of his/her competency, but it also draws on the particular affordances (ideological, physical, and social) of the spaces in which such learnings have taken place and continue to take place. Such a simultaneously spatial and temporal orientation invokes a diasporic consciousness (Clifford, 1994; Larsen & Beech, 2014); it invites the educator to understand each localized encounter with both student (or family) difference and new knowledge domains as an opportunity for movement across socially defined professional boundaries that can deepen notions of accessibility and stimulate new configurations of people and places.6 Rather than preserving a mythical location within a fixed disciplinary boundary, such configurations offer possibilities to affirm the hybridized knowledges that teachers both appropriate and enact during such professional movements (English, 2005). This is the radical openness of Thirdspace that is all-inclusive in its orientation, yet politically focused in scope (Soja, 1996).

Inhabiting a diaspora space also means that inclusion will stimulate narratives and practices in various places that differ markedly from one another, such that the production of each place will develop in different ways. The generic identities of such places (e.g., self-contained, mainstream, general education, etc.) are built through the ways in which those particular pre-given spaces produce teachers, students, and families via regulatory procedures, professional roles, physical environments, curricular materials, etc. The particular character of each place, however, is inseparable from the ways in which ideologies, histories, and people intersect to form unique place-narratives. For example, when students in a self-contained classroom in a general education building perceive their locations as materially constraining and out of sync with their idealized positions, their experience emerges from a particular interplay of ideologies, people, and artifacts within that place that may be different from another self-contained classroom. This double articulation of places (Massey, 1994) means that they always have the potential to evoke new identities and, by extension, new kinds of actors. Inclusion, then, becomes detached from fixed, essentialized place-identities; rather, just as inclusion itself remains a “principled, unending, process” (Booth, 2009), its relationship to places equally remains shifting and dynamic. A diasporic teacher stance towards inclusion allows for such “becomings” of places and actors (Erevelles, 2011), with the condition that such experiences continually look outward to register causally significant social realities including, but not restricted to, a pervasive ideology of ability.

The deliberate focus on teacher identities to disrupt the linkage between place and disability for inclusive practice interrupts the discourse of learning needs that has led to the emergence of oppressive schooling places and student narratives of alienation (see, e.g., T. J. Smith, 2007). Additionally, through a continual reworking of professional boundaries, it performs a transformation of school systems from below that can work in tandem with policy efforts to create more unified systems of education that reduce reliance on separate general- and special education tracks. In its insistence on the irreducibility of place identities to a single fixed narrative, a diasporic response to inclusion may evoke some anxiety about its potential for radical school reform. However, in its refusal to adopt binary positions, such a stance may be much more sensitive to the complexities of lived experiences across boundaries and, therefore, more responsive to the needs of the actors who navigate them.


1. Gruenewald (2002, 2003) postulates a critical pedagogy of place that combines the ideological imperative of critical pedagogy with the scope and methodologies of a place-based education. However, the focus of such pedagogy is largely about restoring students’ connections to places beyond schools to authenticate their lived experiences. While this has implications for students with disabilities as for students from other marginalized communities, it has much less to offer in rethinking perceived boundaries within schools.

2. Mandated reporters are required by law to report child abuse or neglect.

3. Individualized Education Program.

4. In each of the observed classrooms of Jessica, Stephanie, and Anita/Maria, students with disabilities utilized various assistive technological devices to assist in their learning and group participation.

5. Typically, lead teachers in co-taught classrooms are considered to be the general education teachers who are perceived as having both the responsibility for, and knowledge of, the curricular content.

6. Any analysis of educational experience must incorporate the issue of accessibility (Titchkosky, 2011). The concept of accessibility as commonly used indexes the priorities of the built environment, such that something special/different must be offered for a specific group, i.e., individuals with disabilities. This, of course, leads to the question: What is the nature of the human community that is envisioned in the design of a place or experience? What additional insights, therefore, may be produced in the theorizing of place/space when considering the interaction of the built environment with various forms of human dis/ability? In the context of an educational discourse that emphasizes access to general education for all students with disabilities, considerations of accessibility would enhance a spatial analysis of inclusion but are outside the scope of this paper.


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Appendix A: Sample Raw Data for Each Category Derived in Phase I

Places as situating people inside/outside experiences

Places as bearing particular conceptions of the learner

Movement between places

Places as responsible for facilitating positive values

Places as distinguished by nature and levels of access

Places as denoting particular types of students and educators

Association of placement with time

Places as premised on readiness

Places within placements

Advantages and disadvantages of place for teachers

Advantages and disadvantages of place for students

Places as unequal

Places as requiring resources

Kristine: Yeah, I worked with parents at [self-contained school] who no way José would their child ever be in a setting like this [mainstream public elementary]. And then vice versa. People here are like . . . no way I’d go to that setting.

Stephanie: I mean, and I only say that because I think parents peek in and sometimes, and they are like, “What is going on in the classroom?”

Paul: When I get back to the division of labor in this school, that [making family home visits] is something that teachers would not do here. That is something the counseling staff would do.

Melissa: You know if she works with him at home, he [student with significant disabilities] might be able to accomplish more. But she wants us to teach him things that she doesn’t take the time to teach him. . . . I just think [he] needs to be someplace else. You know, in a different room where he’s learning things that he would really use.

Stephanie: Sometimes, we forget that there’s actually something very good that comes out of learners knowing themselves. You know, we’re trying to put such a blanket over everybody being just as smart as anybody else, everybody being able to do the same thing. And sometimes that takes more precedence than empowering the children to know who they are as learners, where they are, and that they would be able to set—and so, setting goals for themselves. I feel like sometimes, especially in a CTT* classroom, you work out of so much sensitivity that you forget the accountability in that way.

Melissa: He needs to be in a class with about six kids or four, you know, that are on his level that you can work with each one of them and have time with them.

Angie: One child asked me whether he had done well or not [on a test]. And I ended up telling him he did well, that you did 200 points correctly. I really liked the fact that I could tell him that. In a small, in a special ed setting, in a small group setting, if I were in a full class environment, I would tell them every single thing. I would say, “You’re 200. And that 200 means that you’re exceeding the mark for a second grader, and you’re only a first grade.” But I don’t know whether that’s appropriate to tell that to a child in a general ed class something like that.

Kristine: My ideal setting would be a half morning like a [name of self-contained school] setting where they get intense services from everybody who is special ed who . . . you know so they can carry on the programs. And then move into the setting like this [general education school]. Because I think they need to learn those skills.

Laney: The other sad thing about the inclusion piece I see for the future of the students is, the way the middle schools in [school district] currently are doing things . . . we might leave them in the class, but once they get to middle school the way their schedules are going to be made, they’ll be back to self-contained.

Anita: I think maybe if we had some flexibility in terms of pulling out, where he [student with learning disabilities] could be in a smaller group just for part of the day.
Maria: Yeah.
Anita: I think that some flexibility in that . . . in the perfect school and [if] that was possible, he could still stay in the school, but have some flexibility . . . that would be amazing.

Jessica: That comment that Gabby [nondisabled student] made, I thought was so great. She said: “You know, I didn’t think I’d like working with Harry [student with significant disabilities]. Now I realize that I do.” And I think those are the moments when you realize like how purposeful it is for Harry to be in here [general elementary classroom], whether he is on a first-grade level or not. It’s teaching kids life skills that they are going to need in the future.

Stephanie [reflecting on the classroom family community’s harsh response to the family of one student]: Can we as adults really bear to watch a six-year-old being ostracized and kind of, you know, in some ways demonized and say, “Oh, that’s just a terrible child, terrible family, we don’t want to have anything to do with them.” Then you defeat the whole purpose of coming to a school like [name of school]. Then you really should think about a private school or something like that, where you aren’t going to meet people who don’t fit your social category.

Maria: All the other self-contained classrooms that I've heard of have not been great, so I always like, do not want to put children there. [Laughter.]
Anita: Because also for us, beneath of why I feel we teach in [collaboratively taught classrooms], it's because of the model. And because it mimics more of what real life is.

Stephanie: I think [student with physical disabilities] is the ideal [laughs] child for this particular program [inclusion classroom]. Really because I think he does have all the physical pieces where he needs more access getting around and things like that. Where he needs a lot of access and things like that, but I feel like as far as getting the curriculum, he’s closer to being able to pick up and also feel like he can participate.

Melissa: You know, it’s frustrating if he [student with significant disabilities] takes laundry to the back of the room. . . . I have 24 kids that have to get out of his way and . . . it’s just really hard. . . . I just have a hard time with it. Because I don’t think that his time is well spent.

Anita: I think it's been really nice to see his independence in writing and how it has grown through the use of the AlphaSmart [portable writing device], and how he enjoys using the AlphaSmart, and felt good about his ability to write really long passages. So I think to see himself as a learner and to feel that he is capable of learning and to see his growth, has been really nice. To say, “Look, Marley, this is what you did before, but with the AlphaSmart, look how much you're able to write, and you can do this, right?” To have this idea that he is a reader. He is a writer. He can do this. To have his confidence really built up.

Paul: I remember when I was in [special education district school setting], which was mostly emotionally disturbed kids and then you’d have one kid in there or two kids in there that were learning disability kids, and you’d say, why are they here, right? Because the worst place for a dyslexic kid or a kid who is slow processing is in a place where kids are throwing chairs and, you know, have to curse?

Laney: [Director of Special Education] really wanted us to pick people who would work with it [inclusion] . . . [in a lowered voice] not to get people who are opposed to it . . . So we really worked on . . . it was grade level three or four. We were trying to divide the children up into two classes, and the third teacher would get all the speech-only kids, articulation kind of kids. So IEP minutes would be pretty equal as far as meetings to attend, but even more significant needs students would be [with] the two teachers who were all for inclusion.

Stephanie: Once you have a special ed certification, principals who are hiring . . . once they see that you have that in your background, in their minds, I think they’re reaching back into the old days when special education teachers used to show up at the doors and take kids away. And I think they see that image, or they see the image of a self-contained classroom, and they’re not really understanding that special education teachers today are very different. We’re very well-rounded.

Kristine: I guess the thing is that it’s [general education elementary] so fast-paced sometimes. . . . Like last year was half-day kindergarten, that was really fast-paced. So, it takes a great deal of time sometimes just to set up for the activity that by the time essentially you would get set up, the activity would be over.

Angie: But what my experience is, is that there is not the time by the special ed teacher to really focus on those [students with disabilities] kids all the time . . . and I think that happens in almost all the CTT* classes, where there’s so much expected beyond the role of just being the teacher for that population, that those children actually lose out to some extent, because if they were pulled out on a one-to-one basis for something, they might be moving even quicker because all the kids, the CTT kids within the room, or the IEP kids within this room, don’t have the same needs.

Melissa: I have another classroom, nine kids. Why didn’t they [special ed department] put him [student with significant disabilities] in with nine kids? Then I would have more time for him.

Jessica: I think you when you feel like you’ve been super well-trained for regular ed. and all of a sudden you are going to need to do some special ed things, there’s a sense of panic. Just because you do want to meet their needs, you do want to do everything right, and you do want to be on target, and if you feel like you don’t have the tools, it can be frustrating.

Melissa: He [student with significant disabilities] came in with an aide and it was just like, “Oh, I don’t know. . . .” I was shocked. And don’t get me wrong I don’t mind, I like him, I give him a lot of attention, But it’s a shock. I mean you plan what are doing in the class, you have expectations and then all of a sudden it changes. When the door opened, it changed, you know.

Paul: And what also happens with special ed is, you know, through eighth grade, they [students with disabilities] can get promoted by modified criteria. That cannot happen in high school. So if they have an IEP, I can put in the IEP, “Kayla’s goal for math is to be able to count by 10,” and that gets you into eighth grade if you can count by 10. Now you come into ninth grade and guess what? You don’t move until you can pass the [state high school exams]. So you’ve got a lot of work to make up.

Paul: So technically, we are the CTT* class. But we don’t do that here because if you have an IEP and you are CTT, but you do well in math, then you are in the other math class that will take the [state high school examinations] in June. We track kids based on mathematical ability and not on IEP–non-IEP.

Kristine: We have a learning center . . . we are trying to make it feel more open and welcoming to everybody. So with the flexible groups, it’s also set up that if somebody is having a behavioral problem, a meltdown, they just need to get away, we have someone down there and if not, people know that all they need to do is find [another special education teacher] or myself and we’ll track somebody down and we’ll stay down there with that person. And again, it does not have to be anybody with an IEP, it could be just somebody that needs a break or something like that.

Laney: His [a student with a disability] schedule has been [that] he’s in a class within a class so he gets the support without people knowing he has an IEP. . . special ed.

Stephanie: Being a [resource]** teacher, it’s very easy to take the kids out and be able to kind of demystify certain things, and then they would go back and I felt like I’ve done what I needed to do.

Paul: The first year I worked here when I had these 15 to one [self-contained classroom] kids . . . it was a great environment. So, if we’re rocking and rolling on Catcher in the Rye, and the bell rings, we still keep going and rocking and rolling on Catcher in the Rye and I’ll do math tomorrow with you. And—and—and then also the negative side of that is if we’re having a crummy day, it’s a crummy day.

Melissa: Every classroom is difficult and then to add one more. . . . It’s real hard to fulfill their needs. It’s really tough, leaves you frustrated. You always leave frustrated with [student with significant disabilities]. I don’t feel like I have really accomplished much with him. And that’s what you want to do.

Anita [reflecting on decision-making for future placement for a student with learning disabilities in a classroom other than a general education setting]: I think that, for me, it's that the moment where he [student with learning disabilities] has had most success is, when he's in a very, very small group with a teacher. And that he is frequently lost as evidenced by him playing with fluff, by looking in the complete opposite direction, by him saying “I don't get it,” by him coming back and saying, “Wait, this is what you want me to do?” when he's in the larger group. And that when we've seen him produce work, it is when it's very, very individual and in a very, very small setting.

Melissa: I have a hard time thinking that he [student with significant disabilities] benefits from the class [high school Foods]. I don’t ask; they say he needs to be in there. I don’t think it’s anything that he will ever use.

Kristine: Like some of the kids that I went with at [middle-school inclusion program] . . . they were in a room at [self-contained school] with other kids who screamed and yelled, so of course they weren’t learning appropriate behaviors. So once they moved into the other setting, although academically they were nowhere near, at least they were learning appropriate social skills and they weren’t just doing the screaming and crying and we really just worked on more self-advocacy.

Stephanie: [Resource]** teachers are always called and pulled to do lunch duty or to sub for a general ed teacher who is absent or to like do recess duty or something ridiculous like that, and it’s like we have these teachers here because the students who they’re working with have the need, and you find that it’s okay to pull them at your whim, and that is very, very strange.

Paul: It [his self-contained classroom] was also a safe place for the city to throw teachers that didn’t know what the hell they were doing, right? Because who cares about their test scores?

Angie: And I think the philosophy that I’ve seen in some cases has been a secondary role . . . that the special ed teacher is really not in there to be a teacher.

Paul: And so it [a self-contained program] was impractical from two perspectives. It was expensive because space is a premium and to have one room just for 12 kids is not practical. It’s not practical to have one teacher for just 12 kids. So that program, although it was successful—we have kids from that program who are currently in college—it was not practical.

Maria [commenting on implementing flexible scheduling between collaboratively taught and self-contained classrooms in the school]: We don’t have the number of teachers to make it happen.
Anita: I mean, I think that we could do it sort of informally. But for it to really work, it needs to be formalized. And . . . we don't have the manpower.

*CTT refers to the collaboratively taught model of classroom configuration employed by the school district, which included a general education and a special education teacher, and students with and without disability labels.

** Models of resource teacher support vary across schools and districts. In the interest of preserving anonymity, I have not used the name of the model used by the district in this study.

APPENDIX B: Interview Questions for Educators

Note: Many of the focal students with disabilities in the classrooms within these research sites were students considered significantly disabled.

Describe your career as a teacher. How long have you been teaching? What sorts of settings have you taught in? What are some important goals for yourself as a teacher that you try to implement in your daily practice? What is your role as an educator in this classroom/building?

Describe your classroom community. What expectations do you hold of yourself and your students in maintaining this community?

Describe (the disabled student/s). Who is (s)he? What do you know about him/her? What kinds of activities does (s)he seem to enjoy? What does (s)he seem to fear or dislike the most? Who are the peers or adults with whom (s)he interacts the most? How would you describe his/her performance as a student in the classroom?

What does “successfully included” mean to you? What kinds of evidence do you look for? Can you give me an example of an event/incident that illustrates what you mean?

What has been your biggest challenge in making this inclusionary process a successful one? Can you describe some events/share some stories that illustrate what you mean?

What has been your main source of help/support in making the process of inclusion work? Can you provide some examples to illustrate this?

What do you see as your biggest responsibility in ensuring that [the disabled student] is successfully included in the classroom? Can you provide some examples to illustrate what you mean?

How would you describe your relations with the family of [the disabled student]? Can you share some anecdotes about any particular event/interaction? What stories do you hear from them about their child?

*What stories do you hear from your students about [the disabled student]? Can you describe these [peer] students?

*What stories do you hear about [the disabled student] from other staff members in school?

**How do you feel about using technological supports to achieve academic goals in the classroom? What resources do you have for your professional development in this area?

**How do you use technology to support [the disabled student]’s literacy development? Can you give some examples? In what ways has this benefited the student in the classroom?

***How/why did you sign for professional development in inclusive practice? Please describe your experiences thus far in including students with disabilities in your classroom.

* The research focus for the study in which educators were asked these questions centered on investigating peer narratives of significant disability in inclusive classrooms.

** The research focus for the study in which educators were asked these questions centered on the use of assistive technology to support the literacy development of students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms.

*** Educators who were asked this question participated in a professional development sequence on inclusive education facilitated by the author.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 12, 2016, p. 1-46
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21658, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 10:03:12 AM

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About the Author
  • Srikala Naraian
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    SRIKALA NARAIAN is an Associate Professor in the Elementary and Secondary Inclusive Education Programs in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. She locates herself in the disability studies tradition and is interested in researching processes of inclusive education, teacher preparation for inclusive education, and the education of students with significant disabilities. She has offered professional development to teachers in New York City schools on inclusive practices. Additionally, she has prepared teachers for inclusive education in international contexts, particularly in Iceland and in India. She has published widely in many journals, including International Journal of Inclusive Education, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Curriculum Inquiry, and Teacher Education and Special Education.
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